This week, spending time with Dante the draft mule, I noticed that his tail was severely matted in two long, hardened cables. This had to be frustrating for him; a tail can’t do the work of swatting at flies and yellowjackets if it can’t move swiftly. It might have also been painful. Those of us who know the challenges of long, knotty hair understand the sting on your scalp when it gets caught the wrong way.
I had never seen anything like it, and so I approached one of the incredibly knowledgable 13 Hands staff members and asked him to take a look. He put aside everything, stopped by the paddock while I was grooming Dante, and assured me he’d seen worse. He would not, as I feared, have to shave the mats out of Dante’s tail. With almost a whole bottleful of detangler, we got to work. Almost an hour later, the long, red-brown hairs of Dante’s tail were blowing free in the breeze.
This seems like a bit of an oversimplification, though. Working with rescues can be a bit of a puzzle: Which ones crave human attention? Which ones are more comfortable deep in the herd? Which ones will tolerate fly spray? Which ones flinch when they see a rope? Which ones trot right up to you begging for a face rub? Which ones will stand endlessly while you detangle? Why do they behave the way they do? What are their stories?
When I first met Dante, he let me know that he loves to be brushed. And when I say “loves” I mean he drops his head and stands still in the middle of the field without a halter and lead rope, and when you stop brushing he follows you until you agree to start again. However, understandably, he wasn’t so wild about four hands working detangler into his hardened tail and pulling each tail hair out of its entanglement. I don’t blame him.
After just a few minutes, this beautiful giant got antsy, his way of telling us, “I’m uncomfortable.” He never once exhibited behavior that worried us — no biting, no threatening to kick. But he’d begun to dance around, so we knew this detangling session could be hard on him. We wondered what we could do to relax him, to make this a tolerable or maybe even enjoyable experience.
I grabbed my brush and started doing what he loves. The rest, as they say, is detangling history.
Dante’s story — if you’ll forgive the play on words, his tale — is evident in some ways. He has physical scars consistent with a hard working life. And now, when you visit with him, he tells you that he craves kindness and a gentle hand (preferably with a brush in it).
We unraveled his tail this week, and it took patience and a light tough. It will take patience and a light touch, too, to unravel his tale — and just the right person to write its next pages.
Until next time,